The role of the extrapersonal brain systems in religious activity

Conscious Cogn. 2006 Sep;15(3):500-39. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2005.09.009. Epub 2006 Jan 24.


The neuropsychology of religious activity in normal and selected clinical populations is reviewed. Religious activity includes beliefs, experiences, and practice. Neuropsychological and functional imaging findings, many of which have derived from studies of experienced meditators, point to a ventral cortical axis for religious behavior, involving primarily the ventromedial temporal and frontal regions. Neuropharmacological studies generally point to dopaminergic activation as the leading neurochemical feature associated with religious activity. The ventral dopaminergic pathways involved in religious behavior most closely align with the action-extrapersonal system in the model of 3-D perceptual-motor interactions proposed by . These pathways are biased toward distant (especially upper) space and also mediate related extrapersonally dominated brain functions such as dreaming and hallucinations. Hyperreligiosity is a major feature of mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, temporal-lobe epilepsy and related disorders, in which the ventromedial dopaminergic systems are highly activated and exaggerated attentional or goal-directed behavior toward extrapersonal space occurs. The evolution of religion is linked to an expansion of dopaminergic systems in humans, brought about by changes in diet and other physiological influences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Dopamine* / metabolism
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways
  • Religion and Psychology*


  • Dopamine